Busting the myth that you need to pay thousands for luxury skincare brands to see positive results, is beauty and chemistry maven, Conny Oberrauter who teaches women how to make their own products. Her diploma in Cosmetic Science, along with years of lab experience, has allowed Conny to learn the industry secrets to glowing skin and healthy hair. Meticulously devising simple and foolproof formulations, Conny published her first cosmetics recipe book in 2017. The FEMtrepreneur then started an online store to help budding skincare enthusiasts purchase all the ingredient kits required to concoct creams, scrubs, masks and balms that are ideally suited to their unique skin needs.
The Cosmetics Chef shares her expert knowledge on starting a business and creating your own natural beauty products at a fraction of the cost.
What drew you to the cosmetics industry?
It was actually by chance. When completing my matric exams, I realised that I didn’t have anything planned for when I finished school. I wanted to study Pharmacology and had visions of myself finding cures for diseases. Unfortunately, there was no funding for me to go to university, so I had to see what other options I had beyond being a waitress. I’ve always had a passion and love for chemistry. So, I opened up the yellow pages and looked for chemical companies. I phoned every single company and asked if they either offered bursaries or apprenticeships in anything chemistry related.
The majority said no, but one company told me that I should speak to someone else they knew, so they gave me her number and I called her. The lady owned a company that did contract manufacturing for cosmetics, and she invited me to spend the day with her at the factory and explore the world of making cosmetics. She introduced me to the cosmetics industry and told me about the cosmetic science diploma course. I fell in love with the industry and had so much fun making creams on that day in her factory.
That’s how I stumbled into the industry and never left. I still have as much fun making products as I did that first day. I love how the industry changes with new trends and there’s always something new and exciting to explore.
So instead of curing medical diseases, I cure self-esteem issues. I create products that help people improve their appearance and boost self-confidence. I make people feel beautiful in their own skin.
What inspired you to start The Cosmetics Chef?
I’d been running my consulting business for around eight years and was looking for a way to expand my passion. I wanted to make the know-how of making your own cosmetics more easily available to everyone, and not just the select few who had the means to develop their own cosmetic brands.
I bought a Thermomix which is an incredible kitchen appliance that can do so much. My friend asked if we could make cosmetics in it, and I immediately said no, because in my mind you had to have a fancy lab with technical equipment to make decent products. My lab had everything to create an amazing product, so why on earth would I make cosmetics in the kitchen??
The seed was planted and after a few days, I started playing around. I took my decades of research and development experience, and applied that to making products easier with everyday ingredients.
That’s when I decided the first step would be to publish a recipe book with all the tips and tricks to make incredible, quality products at home. The business grew from there and I started offering workshops and made more premium products available as well.
I also wanted people to know more about the real science behind cosmetics. The information out there is often so far off track and the marketing hype around ingredients is insane. The easiest way to give people the real info was to write blog articles.
Could you share three reasons why women should create their own cosmetic products?
1. People often asked me what products I used on my skin and I mostly replied that I made my own. I had access to the most incredible potent actives and could make myself power products that really worked. I realise that this is a privilege. Most women have to buy what’s on the shelf and hope for the best that their hard-earned money has been well spent. Why shouldn’t we all be able to make what we want for our own skin needs? We customise everything in our lives, our cellphone covers, fashion, and food. Why should we be stuck in the old ways and buy only what is offered to us?
2. Apart from the incredible freedom of being able to make your own products, it saves so much money. Instead of paying for a brand’s massive marketing budget, you buy the actives directly and can use the right amount needed to see real benefits.
A silly example, but when you order a hot chocolate in a restaurant, it’s never as nice as a home-made one right? That’s because the restaurant will use the least amount possible of chocolate powder to make it taste great, but also to maximise their profits. At home you will add one or two more teaspoons for extra richness. Or you will add some real chocolate and make a super-decadent treat.
Cosmetics are the same. The actual product inside the jar is less than 10% of the product cost. Why should you pay so much more? Making it yourself means you cut out the middlemen and spend 100% cost on the product content. So, instead of paying R100 for a R10 product, you’re getting a real R100 product that would normally cost you more than R1000 in stores.
3. Another bonus is that it is more planet-friendly and less wasteful. You only make what you need when you need it. The waste that is created in mass-manufacturing of cosmetics is shocking.
What makes The Cosmetics Chef unique?
I am an expert formulator and share all my knowledge and secrets with everyone. I’m transparent on how the industry works and happily give away all secrets. I show you exactly what goes into everything, while everyone else likes to keep their recipes secret.
I stand up and tell everyone what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t jump onto the latest trends just to get you to buy my products. I create products that will truly benefit your skin/hair. Cosmetics are not dangerous, toxin-loaded products that other brands may want you to believe – usually only to benefit their own marketing strategy. It’s time to start debunking those myths and let you make your own decisions based on real info and not marketing twists.
Could you share a simple recipe for our readers?
This pineapple oatmeal enzyme mask is one of my absolute favourite recipes. I love how incredible my skin feels after applying this.
What was the very first project you handled or product you sold?
The first product I ever made, when I started working in the industry, was a clear gel. It seems so simple but what started as a milky-looking liquid turned into a crystal-clear thick gel when one ingredient was added. I was blown away. The magic happened right in front of my eyes!
The first product I sold was probably when I moved from the lab into technical sales and sold an incredible anti-ageing active to a contract manufacturer. It was so cool to know the ingredients I sold were being used in top local brands.
What challenges have you faced as a FEMtrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge is probably overcoming self-doubt. I still battle with it and think it’s common for women to question their own abilities. Men seem to have much more resilience and keep pushing on, whereas women tend to ask “What did I do?” in a situation that affected the outcome. Often we had no control over it, but yet we still question ourselves.
Believing in my idea and taking it forward was very scary. I worried about the industry’s reaction to me starting The Cosmetics Chef. I was wary that my fellow professionals would be outraged with my business. In fact, the opposite happened. The industry has been so supportive and the main comment was: “It was about time someone stood up and did something different.”
One challenge is also not to compare myself with others. It’s too easy to see someone else’s success and feel like an underachiever. I have to remind myself that we don’t see their struggle either and they also took a while to achieve success.
Regarding my expertise is in the lab, I have had to learn so much about building a viable business beyond the lab. My consulting business was very successful but limited.
Learning to be comfortable while being uncomfortable has been really tough some days. Every day is different and a new challenge presents itself. Whether it is a small decision based on what to post on social media or larger ones such as which new product to develop next, it can be daunting having to make all the decisions alone.
Going to various ‘women entrepreneur’ events and networking helps me so much; not only to meet other incredible and inspiring women, but to realise that I am not alone and many females face the same challenges. Knowing that makes it easier for me to get through the tough times.
I also have a very supportive partner who is often my rock when I am down.
What drives and motivates you each day?
I’m my own slave-driver. I expect a lot from myself and am sometimes too hard on myself. I want to achieve success, whether it is success in eating well for the day, or managing to find a few minutes to exercise, or even carting the sale. I like to have things ticked off as done. I feel good when I have achieved things.
Some days it’s really difficult, but I remind myself that all things take time.
I see the dream in my mind and I let myself feel the amazing feelings of achieving my dreams. If I want that feeling I have to get off my backside and do something about them. The reality of life motivates me. I’ve never had things handed to me, and don’t expect that to happen anytime soon – that gets me going.
Following inspiring people also helps me. Everyone has an amazing story and there is so much to learn from what others have done. I’m open to learning new things every day, always hungry for more knowledge and personal growth.
What has been the most effective way of marketing your business?
I’ve found the best method has been when I go to events and do a demo. This explains the concept of making your own cosmetics much better than a picture on social media.
I do need social media to grow awareness, but my most successful sales have been in person at events. I’m trying to figure out the best way to translate that energy into an online platform.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve done as a FEMtrepreneur?
Publishing two books was pretty scary. Leaving a paid job to pursue my own freedom and being my own boss – my last salary was more than 10 years ago. I wasn’t sure if it would ever work, but it did. The uncertainty does actually become manageable with good planning. Then, one year ago, I closed my consulting business to focus on The Cosmetics Chef. That was also scary – a new direction and leaving something that was very comfortable.
With The Cosmetics Chef, I’ve also put myself more into the public eye and speak regularly at events. Public speaking was a huge fear of mine and it still freaks me out, but I am learning how to thrive off that energy as well.
I also have another business called Infinity Grip. This is my neglected first child. I launched that a few months before my book. Trying to run two businesses is also scary but so much fun. I have fun playing with ideas in Infinity Grip that may not work for The Cosmetics Chef. I also don’t put as much pressure on myself with Infinity Grip, thus it can grow more slowly and so it’s easier to handle.
Describe yourself in three words:
Creative. Ambitious. Doer.
What do you love most about your job?
Playing with new recipes and feeing the incredible textures that I can create.
Are there any negative aspects of your job?
Figuring out how to manage social media effectively.
When a recipe doesn’t work and I can’t figure out why, it can take lots of trial and error to get it right. Sometimes the chemistry and actual result don’t agree and figuring out why can be frustrating. It’s very rewarding when I do eventually figure it out.
What has been your greatest career achievement thus far?
- Publishing my recipe book
- Being President of The Society of Cosmetic Chemists – twice (in 2009 and 2015)
- Being invited to Japan by the Japanese Society to attend International Association meetings.
What are your future goals for The Cosmetics Chef?
To become a global player on the DIY beauty scene.
What advice would you give to other young female entrepreneurs?
1. If you want to start something on your own, plan ahead as much as possible. Work extra hours, save up as much money as you can, and keep your own expenses low. Having the financial reserves in your own account takes a lot of pressure off when you’re trying to make your dream work.
2. If possible, try to get a secure part-time income source. The more of your own money you are prepared to invest in your own business, the more seriously you will take it, plus the more seriously others will take you. When you do need to seek investment, the first thing potential investors will look at is how much you’ve invested in yourself.
3. Do whatever course you need to do to learn what you need to know. I’m still learning every day.
I disagree with having to outsource things you don’t know how to do, as having to rely on someone else to do it with as much passion as you would, means you could lose out. Even if you don’t do the task, make sure you understand enough of it to know what to look for and what to expect.
4. Most importantly – just do it! Believe in yourself, go out there and show the world your talent. It’s up to you to make it work.
Fun facts about Conny
|Favourite business tool:||My lab|
|My personal style is…||Casual with a bit of a rocker vibe|
|Heels or flats?||Flats mostly, heels are super uncomfortable in a lab, but I love my heels when going out.|
|The Cosmetics Chef product I always recommend:||The volcanic detox mask, or pineapple peeling mask.|
|I de-stress by:||Dancing, reading and listening to music.|
|I never leave home without:||My phone and credit card|
|My favourite ingredients to work with:||Essential oils – these can work in anything and everything.|
|Favourite shade of lipstick:||Not big on lipsticks, so mostly soft, nude colours.|
|Book recommendation:||Crushing It by Gary Vee|
|Tea or coffee?||Both|
|Favourite café or restaurant:||Anywhere that has a good selection of bubbly|
|If I had an unlimited budget, I would use it at:||Any travel places, game lodges and on overseas holidays.|
|Dream destination:||So many places:
Next planned dream trip is to the Okavango Delta
|The one thing required for success is…||Perseverance|
Mastering the art of haircare products and beauty potions has been made so simple, thanks to Conny’s inventive concept. Attending one of her step-by-step workshops would be so refreshing at the next Women’s Day event or conference, bridal shower or all-girl get-together.
The Cosmetics Chef inspires us to create our own skincare magic from the comfort of our homes. Anything that allows us to feel like chemistry pros – while wearing pyjamas – is a bonus!
Are you as excited about formulating your own creations as we are?